Vietnamese Woman, Priscilla Dang, Beats Down Perverted Teens

Dang, 23

We all know Vietnamese women are tough.  This week in Vancouver, Washington, two teenage boys learned that the hard way.

Priscilla Dang, 23, was going for a jog when two teenage boys rode up on a bike next to her.  One boy rode ahead and the other snuck behind Dang and groped her bottom.  Dang responded by pushing one of the teenagers to the ground and making him apologize.  The other teen did not let up and instigated Dang with derogatory terms.  She wasn’t as gentle with him: Dang proceeded to punching him in the face.  When he pulled out a knife, Dang used a bicycle to stand him off as bystanders called 911.  The teens ran away but were later caught and charged with assault.

It all sounds like a bad plot out of a 80’s kung fu movie.  But yes folks, it’s real life.  As a cherry on top, it as been revealed that Dang has been training on martial arts since she was a toddler and her family owns Summit Wushu Academy.  The media is having a field day with this story.  To all you would-be gropers and muggers out there: the rumors are true, we all know martial arts, so don’t even try it. Really.

SourcePriscilla Dang, Martial Arts Expert, Lays Down The Law After Teenager Gropes Her On A Jog (Huffington Post)

Health Brief: No More Public Smoking in Vietnam

Want to light up a cigarette in public? Not anymore, say lawmakers in Vietnam.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that Vietnam has passed a law banning smoking in all public places. The law also prohibits tobacco advertising and bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. The law is set to go into effect in May 2013.

High tobacco use is certainly an issue in Vietnam and throughout most of Asia. According to the World Health Organization, 40,000 people die of tobacco-related causes in Vietnam each year. The figure is expected to rise. One in three boys ages 15 – 24 smokes. The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), an anti-smoking group, estimates that there are 15.3 million smokers in Vietnam, and nearly half of all adult males smoke.

The question now is, will this new law have any impact? A similar decree was passed in 2010, banning smoking in public, raising taxes on tobacco and restricting cigarette sales. But the decree was seen to have little effect, as public smoking and cigarette sales remain casual sights in Vietnam.

Rather than pure legislative action, regulation coupled with a greater public health awareness campaign might be the path to go.

Source: AFP

Cross-posted at VNHELP‘s blog. To see the original post, click here. VNHELP is nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian and development assistance to Vietnam, focusing on individual and community building by tackling the key education and health needs of Vietnam’s poor.

Image by lanier67 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Vietnam is the 2nd Happiest Country in the World?

Are you more likely to be happy living in Vietnam than in Switzerland, Norway, the U.S. and even Bhutan (the only country to measure “gross national happiness“)?

That’s what the results of this year’s Happy Planet Index (HPI) suggest. Designed by the New Economics Foundation (motto: “economics as if people and the planet mattered”), the HPI sets forth to be the “leading global measure of sustainable, well-being.” It ranks countries on how well they create the conditions for citizens to live long, happy, sustainable lives using three primary indicators: life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological footprint.

Based on these metrics, Vietnam came in at a perplexing 2nd out of 151 countries. In other words, Vietnam is the second happiest country in the world, according to the HPI.

Rounding out the top 10 are Costa Rica (at number 1), Colombia, Belize, El Savador, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guatemala. Bangladesh just misses the top slots at number 11.

Why are we more perplexed than impressed? While the top 11 countries have all been lauded as models of development at some point, and while most are heavyweight tourist magnets, they are not exactly known as glowing bastions of happiness. Many of them suffer from high levels of inequality. Gang violence, though much improved, has been a major concern for many of the Latin American countries. Colombia is still dealing with decades of a protracted armed conflict, and Bangladesh has entered into another stage of political turmoil. Meanwhile, countries that ranked highly in the World Happiness Report by Columbia University’s Earth Institute did relatively poorly in the Happy Planet Index. See below:

Note: While the Happy Planet Index includes 151 countries, the World Happiness Report includes 156.

We’re not saying that one ranking system is better than the other; both rankings base their data from similar sources, including the UN and Gallup Polls. But it does give us pause to see Vietnam ranked so highly in the HPI when we know worries of inflation, underemployment and sluggish economic growth weigh heavy on the minds of many. Perhaps the HPI is better considered a reflection of the overall level of optimism of Vietnamese people and their belief in their ability to advance their lives, rather  than an expression of contentment with their current living situations. If anything, the HPI does well to subvert expectations and make us question what “model happiness” is, if such a thing exists. Is it a Scandinavian climate and a GDP per capita of $40,200? Or is it sunny beaches along a 1290 km coastline and a life expectancy of 79.1 years?

Note: Bhutan, sometimes dubbed the happiest country in the world, is not included in either rankings due to a lack of available data. A case study on Bhutan, however, is presented in the World Happiness Report.

Cross-posted at VNHELP‘s blog. To see the original post, click here. VNHELP is nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian and development assistance to Vietnam, focusing on individual and community building by tackling the key education and health needs of Vietnam’s poor.

Image by GijsBudel via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How peaceful is Vietnam, anyway?

The Global Peace Index, an initiative of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), recently released the 2012 Global Peace rankings. The Index compares 158 countries according to their “absence of violence” across 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators (see below). This year, Vietnam came in 34th, putting it in the first tier of the world’s most peaceful countries. Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia (20th) and Singapore (23rd) are almost among the world’s 35 most peaceful countries.

Excerpted from the GPI’s ranking of Vietnam, found here.

Based on this index, Vietnam is more peaceful than South Korea (42nd), the U.S. (88th) and China (89th). A 34th rank is actually a drop in standing, compared to the 30th ranking for Vietnam in 2011. However, last year’s ranking also featured five less countries than this year. Considering how “Vietnam” is so often associated with past wars, it is interesting to see Vietnam ranked so highly in peace by the IEP now.

Full rankings found here. (Lower scores are better.)

How peaceful do you feel Vietnam is?

Cross-posted on VNHELP’s blog. See the original here.

Image by Flickr user rightee via Creative Commons

Building Better Start-ups: Developing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Vietnam

As I mentioned in my first post, one of the reasons I moved to Vietnam six years ago was because I saw a whole new world of opportunities to start new businesses. Through my journey as both an entrepreneur and angel investor in Vietnam, I’ve come to realize that, while there are many opportunities to start new businesses in Vietnam, there are significant barriers to scaling up a new business. These barriers range from a socio-political system that may necessitate use of “under the table” money, to inefficient banking and distribution systems, to a limited total market size. While some of these factors may change over time, it may take years or even decades to see significant improvements.

The key question then is, given these constraints, how can entrepreneurs in Vietnam become successful? Of course, there are no one-size-fits-all answers, so to begin answering this question, we need to start unpacking two fundamental concepts about how entrepreneurs start new businesses.

First, successful entrepreneurs, in any country or cultural context, start businesses based on their individual strengths or “means.” More specifically, every entrepreneur has three means when starting any new venture, these are: individual talent/skills/abilities or Human Capital (who they are), intellectual capital (what they know), and social capital (who they know). By understanding this key concept, you will see that the potential opportunities to start a new business that one entrepreneur sees will look very different from the opportunities of another entrepreneur with different means. For more information on the concept of entrepreneurs’ means, I recommend reading Saras Sarasvathy’s work on effectuation.

Second, it’s important to make a clear distinction between two separate activities within what we commonly think of as entrepreneurship. These activities are 1) starting a new business (essentially, finding customers who will buy or use your product or service), and 2) growing a business (often referred to as “scaling up a business”). These activities can be mapped to the stages of development of a business, for a more detailed description of one perspective on these distinct stages of business development, I recommend Steve Blank’s blog and book “Four Steps to the Epiphany.”

A common mistake made by both first-time and even previously successful entrepreneurs is that they create a grand vision of their future business, write a detailed business plan to raise huge amounts of funding, and try to scale up without validating whether they actually have customers who will use their product or service. A great example of this was Webvan, which envisioned a future where everyone would order groceries from on-line and have them delivered conveniently to their homes. They invested over $800 million into warehouses, delivery trucks, and personnel to execute on this vision, and once they launched, they only received about 1/3 of the expected orders, and went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

This distinction between the two phases of a start-up is important because “macro” factors (such as demographics/market size, government, banking, and distribution systems) have a greater affect on an entrepreneur’s ability to grow a business, and less on an entrepreneur’s ability to start a business. As a result, in most developing countries like Vietnam, we see many more small “mom and pop” businesses, and very few large privately held companies. The largest companies in these countries tend to be state-owned or have some very strong political connections that give them a competitive advantage (or protection) when it comes to the second phase (i.e. scaling the business).

Now, if we look again at the first point, an entrepreneur’s means will determine their ability to both start and scale a business. Because these are two fundamentally different activities, they require two different sets of skills, knowledge, and relationships. Typically, entrepreneurs who are good at the first activity of starting and validating a new business are not the same people who are good at scaling a business. A great example of this is the case of Starbucks Coffee, where the original founders were able to grow the business to six stores in the Seattle area, but a non-founding manager, Howard Schultz, was the person who took it to a global scale. Similarly, Roy Raymond founded a modestly successful chain of lingerie retail shops in California, creating value for thousands of customers, but Les Wexner of The Limited, with his family background and many years experience in fashion retailing, was able to grow Victoria’s Secret into a global brand, delivering value for millions.

This brings us to a second common mistake made by both first-time and experienced entrepreneurs, which is not bringing the right people on board at the right time. Entrepreneurship is a team sport, and all founders of great companies, both large and small, build core and extended teams that they rely on to help them start, scale, and sustain their businesses.

Ultimately, what determines the success of a start-up is its ability to create value for its customers, and the ability of its founders to capture some of that value creation as profits that will go to grow and sustain the new business. Understanding these two fundamental concepts will help entrepreneurs focus on doing the right things at the right time, and can also help to give mentors, advisors, and investors involved in developing new businesses to give the right advice at the right time.

So, to build better start-ups, entrepreneurial teams and those who support them with advice and investment must have an intense focus on value creation.  If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, now you may ask, “How do I create value?”  That will be the subject of future posts…

Photo by pachecopily (Creative Commons)

Camp Len Duong: A Cultural Lens on Leadership and Team Building

Camping during Memorial Day weekend amid a backdrop of pine trees, camp fire sing-alongs, and making new friends is nothing short of fun. But adding in debates about cultural identity among 300 other campers and a keynote address by former NFL player Dat Nguyen (the first Vietnamese American in the league) makes the 2012 Camp Len Duong stand out from the rest. This dual goal of team-building and cultural immersion is what brings me to Maple Lake, Minnesota for the 15th anniversary of Camp Len Duong (which means “embark” in Vietnamese).

This year’s camp theme is “Live Your Dream: Conceive, Believe,  Achieve!” and is hosted by the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association, a non-profit organization headquartered in Houston, Texas. It is a weekend filled with tests of physical stamina, group communication skills, self-reflection, and an occasional dose of Vietnamese history and culture. Around 300 college students and young professionals of Vietnamese descent from the United States and Canada are expected to attend, with a majority of them representing the 2nd or 1.5 generation Vietnamese Americans (those who were born abroad but grew up in the U.S.). Growing up in North America as children of immigrant parents offers a unique set of challenges in navigating cultures, languages, and set of expectations dictated by traditional customs.

Camp Len Duong addresses these topics through professional development workshops from national organizations like Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP); midnight fireside chats; and the chance to work on a real-life case study for non-profit organizations serving the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. These multi-faceted programs encouraged me to come back as a veteran camper and as a full-time staff member in Minnesota this year. Every camp experience has personally contributed to my development as a leader in my community, from ample opportunities in public speaking, to the chance to lead my team for a day among team members twice my age. Each year I feel a few degrees closer to my parents’ roots. The staff does their best to incorporate cultural elements throughout the campsite. For example, cabins are named after major cities like Saigon or Nha Trang. My team name was the word “integrity” in Vietnamese, encouraging my teammates to live up to our namesake when we competed in the “Big Game,” which was a mixture of team challenges from a Ropes Course and Vietnam history trivia and customs.

My first Camp Len Duong in 2006 changed my life. My second Camp Len Duong in 2008 helped me explore my Vietnamese identity. My third Camp Len Duong 2011 set me on a course.  Camp activities can inspire new ideas to help build a better community, but the competitive seed grants allow those ideas to come to fruition. What is unique is that campers can apply for a $1000 grant sponsored by the New Moon Foundation, which I applied for in its inaugural year. Through the grant, I started a project to expand civic participation in the Vietnamese American community in Houston, Texas, with the goal of increasing the number of registered voters and the number of bilingual election clerks on Election Day.

This is just one of the many projects stemming from the inspiration and energy that followed Camp Len Duong. For emerging leaders and those who are interested in enriching their lives through public service, Camp Len Duong is something you do not want to miss. Scholarships are available which cover travel and camp fees through the generosity of community supporters and Camp Len Duong alumni. For more information on the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association or Camp Len Duong, visit or

15th Youth Leadership Development Camp

conceive, believe, achieve
Start: May 25, 2012
End: May 28, 2012
Timezone: US/Central
Location: Camp Courage Center – Maple Lake, Minnesota, USA
Registration ends May 9, so act quickly if you’re interested in an experience of a lifetime!

About the Author: Cindy Dinh, 23, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Through grassroots initiatives and public policy in the future, Cindy is committed to empowering the Asian American community. For the past six years she has taught Vietnamese language and culture to over 300 students, equipping them with the confidence and linguistic skills necessary to connect the immigrant population to mainstream society. 

She is passionate about human rights, language access, voter participation, and culturally competent health care. She has interned in Washington, DC in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and is a Board Member of the Houston chapter of OCA (a national Asian American social justice organization). She is the Public Relations Co-Chair of the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association and three-time veteran of its flagship program, Camp Len Duong. 

Cindy holds a B.A. from Rice University where she double-majored in Sociology and Health Policy and was selected as a 2010 Harry S. Truman Scholar for the state of Texas. She will pursue a joint JD/Master’s of Public Policy this fall at the University of California-Berkeley and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She can be reached at:

The Len Duong Experience: A Perspective

Camp Len Duong is a program that cultivates leadership, diversity and tolerance for young Vietnamese who are curious and passionate about bettering our community, our world. That was the impression I left the retreat with in 2010, the first time I attended Len Duong as a panelist. I wish I had known or been exposed to Len Duong, or other similar programs with leadership missions when I was younger, when I was searching for an identity and support network to help nurture my inner curiosity as an artist. Camp Len Duong is a program I highly recommend for young Vietnamese who are interested in making a difference in the world. What makes Len Duong exceptional are the passionate people behind the operation. Each individual bring to this sailable ship a unique talent, intelligence, perspective, and voice that has seemingly propelled Len Duong to reach beyond its locality.

After my first attendance at Camp Len Duong, I returned to Austin to continue my work with Ballet Austin making Quiet Imprint, a ballet with Khanh Ly depicting the dim and calamitous time experienced by most of our parents. While working with the company, I recalled my mind was partially occupied by the three-day retreat at Len Duong.  Something sparked in me, a little flame of pride and inspiration. I was moved by the positive and vibrant energy from all the young campers and staff.

I have been criticized by my peers for my reservation and quiet enthusiasm for things I am proud and passionate about. Many times I am unable to voice or express my feelings with whistles and bells, but that is not to say that my quiet enthusiasm is any less passionate. Len Duong is one of those quiet enthusiasms I wanted to share.

Originally I was going to attend the camp for one day. The reason I decided to stay longer at the retreat was because of the refreshing energy I saw from both staff and campers working together to build a brighter Vietnamese future the Diaspora community. I was genuinely impressed and touched by the bright eyes and eager youth who were whole-heartedly passionate about preserving our culture and heritage. VCSA is doing an incredible job establishing effective programs such as Len Duong to groom our future leaders. Everyday I walked the camp ground, I envisioned a greater and critical presence for our community in America that would foster a positive Vietnamese identity for our youth to identify with, which in turn will help bridge the cultural gap that has torn many families apart. The issues and concerns that were addressed at the Len Duong workshops revealed many of the problems our community face due to the culture clashes that has been ripping parents and their children in the struggle between rooting our children with Eastern traditions and values within a Western playground.

Though we have only been in this country for 35 years, we are only beginning to find ourselves from the residue of the Vietnam quagmire. For the past 3 decades, Vietnamese parents have buried themselves in their work for survival. Many even forgot themselves and the meaning of life. What I saw at Len Duong was a shift in that the efforts of our parents are beginning to bloom brightly; our youth are growing up and stepping forward to carry the torch that will relit the Vietnamese identity that has long laid dormant. Words could not express how proud I felt listening to the issues discussed by the campers and their concerns to find resolutions to remedy the problems our community face.

The most rewarding thing about my experience at Len Duong, besides the leadership training and amazing people, was the awakening of our Vietnamese identity, which has long been asleep, is in the near horizon. Thank you for being an agent for our cultural preservation. I am proud and honor to know VCSA and appreciate the work VCSA is doing in the community.

Learn more about Camp Len Duong here. Registration is open till May 9.

conceive, believe, achieve
Start: May 25, 2012
End: May 28, 2012
Timezone: US/Central
Location: Camp Courage Center – Maple Lake, Minnesota, USA

Thang Dao was born in Danang, Vietnam. He currently resides in New York City as a dancer, choreographer, and director of the Thang Dao Dance Company. Dao holds a MA degree from New York University’s Gallatin School. He received his formal dance education from the Juilliard School and The Boston Conservatory, where he received his BFA in dance in 2001. Dao danced for the Stephen Petronio Company and the Metropolitan Opera until 2006, leaving to pursue his choreographic career. He has presented works in Boston, New York City, North Carolina, California, Michigan and Austin with acclaimed reviews by the Boston Globe and The New York Times. In 2006, his ballet Stepping Ground, choreographed on Ballet Austin for the 1st Biannual New American Dance Talent, received the Audience Choice Award all four nights. He recently choreographed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto for Ballet Austin II. Dao is honored to be the recipient of the 2008 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship and the 2009 Special Project Grant. His balletEchoes, commissioned by the Boston Conservatory, is being toured nationally with Ailey II. Dao is also set for a new commission for Ballet X.  His most recent project was the “Quiet Imprint” production performed by Ballet Austin featuring the music of Trinh Cong Son with Khanh Ly voice.  In 2010, Thang Dao was invited as a guest speaker for a panel discussion of Career Aspirations and he fell in love with the camp. He will come back at camp Len Duong 2012 to discuss his career aspiration with campers in Minnesota during Memorial Holiday weekend.

Doing “Deals”: Investment vs Valuation in Vietnam

Recently, I’ve seen some pretty sensational stories on start-up blogs, news, and events.  Some of these stories may come from a simple misunderstanding about the terms and mechanics of early stage investment and valuation in Vietnam. So my goal with this post is to help demystify some basic concepts and terms used in entrepreneurial finance.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say you’re an e-commerce startup in Vietnam, you’ve gotten some traction in the market through a group-buying model, and now you want to leverage your resources into a full-fledged e-commerce retailer.  If you, the entrepreneur, say to a reporter who may be unfamiliar with entrepreneurial finance, “We just closed a $60 million dollar deal…” this can mean one of two things: 1) You received $60 million dollars in financing, or 2) The total value of your company after the investment was made (referred to as the post-money valuation) is $60 million.

In scenario 1, $60 million invested would imply a total valuation of $120-300 million, depending on how much equity was exchanged for $60 million. (This could be anywhere from 20-50%, venture capitalists would typically take a 33% stake, so we could estimate a total post-money valuation of $180mil).

In scenario 2, a $60 million valuation would imply a much smaller cash investment, anywhere from $12-30 million, again depending on what percentage of equity the investors purchased.  (The typical range is from 20-50%, with 35% being average, so we could estimate 33% which would put cash investment at $18mil).

The table below shows the two scenarios, assuming the investors took a 33% equity stake in the company.

Case 1

Case 2


$60 million

$18 million


$180 million

$60 million

In real terms, this is a difference in available cash that you can spend growing your business of $42 million dollars.  For a new company, and especially an e-commerce start-up focused entirely on the Vietnam market, a $60 million dollar investment seems a bit out of place.  As a point of comparison, Mekong Capital invested $3.5mil in a mobile handset retailer (The Gioi Di Dong) at a total valuation of $10mil.

In terms of the valuation of the company itself, venture capital investors typically expect a 20-35 times the return on their investment within 5 years.  So the company in Case 1 would need to reach a total valuation of at least $3.6 billion in the next 5 years.  In Case 2, the company would need to be worth at least $1.2 billion.  While the ideal timeframe for an exit is 5 years, many companies take up to 10 years or more to have an exit (through M&A or IPO), and this only makes the required exit value higher for the company.

As another point of comparison, last year, one of the dominant e-commerce companies in India, received an investment that valued the company at $850 million.  The company has been in operation since 2007, and has projected revenues for 2012 of $97 million. Assuming a 10% net profit margin, and a Price to Earnings ratio of about 10x, the $850 million valuation seems pretty reasonable.

So what would be a reasonable valuation for a Vietnamese e-commerce start-up?  Since there aren’t any published statistics about the Vietnam e-commerce space, let’s compare some basic demographic data about India and Vietnam.  India has about 11 times the population and 16 times the GDP of Vietnam.

So, the key question here is, would a $60 million dollar investment make sense for a Vietnam-focused E-Commerce company?  Or would a valuation of $60 million be more reasonable?  If you were an investor, how much would you invest, and what could you reasonably expect to get back in the future?

For a more in-depth look at current trends in early stage investing, check out the book “Early Exits” by Basil Peters (

Image by Flickr user toehk (Creative Commons)

OneVietnam Co-Founders Honored With Young Innovator Awards by Migration Policy Institute

Uyen speaking at the MPI 10th anniversary.

Congratulations to our mother ship’s co-founders James Bao and Uyen Nguyen for winning the Migration Policy Institute’s Young Innovators Awards! At MPI’s 10th anniversary, James and Uyen were honored alongside Alan K. Simpson, a former US senator, and Ron Mazzoli, a former member of the US house of representatives for their work in public policy; Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundation, who was recognized as a global visionary; and the former Prime Minister of Italy, Giuliano Amato, recipient of the Leadership in International Migrations Award.

James and Uyen were honored for their work on OneVietnam and “their vision and dynamism in engaging the Vietnamese diaspora in action for good through the use of new media, arts, culture, and social entrepreneurship. Their initiative is being examined as a model for other diaspora groups.”

James and Uyen accept their award about 55 minutes into the video below. Check it out here! And we can’t forget to thank Paul Pham either, the engineering mastermind who’s made all this possible.

Let’s look forward to catalyzing further social change by combining the best of philanthropy and technology.

Absolution: Thao Nguyen on Snap Judgement

Snap Judgement is one of my favorite radio shows (story telling with a beat y’all), and Thao Nguyen is my favorite Vietnamese American singer (she braves bee stings and all). Naturally, Snap Judgement x Thao Nguyen is something that gets my little fan girl heart a flutter.

In the latest episode of Snap Judgement, themed “Absolution,” Thao shares the story of her grandmother and how her grandma turned silence into a force for empowerment. This little 7-minute segment touches on gender roles in Vietnamese culture, domesticity, saving face and subversion. Check out if you’d like some sound for thought this weekend.